12:14 PM

First Arkansas Wing School-Based Squadron Takes Off

Charter presentation

ARWG graphicLike so many Civil Air Patrol members, Maj. Garrick St. Pierre wears more than one hat in the organization. Not only is he the Arkansas Wing’s director of aerospace education, he’s also commander of the wing’s first school-based squadron the Crenchaw Memorial Squadron at Cloverdale Middle School in Little Rock

The squadron received its charter May 11 after starting out affiliated with the Little Rock-based 42nd Composite Squadron.

Its name honors Milton Pitts Crenchaw (1919-2015), recognized as the father of Black aviation in Arkansas. One of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Crenchaw was the first African American from Arkansas trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot. He trained hundreds of cadet pilots at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the 1940s.

St. Pierre was already acquainted with Crenchaw, having become involved in 2009 with setting up what’s now the Milton Pitts Crenchaw Aviation Training  Academy while he was deputy commander for cadets for the 42nd Composite Squadron.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw

St. Pierre traces the squadron’s connections to Crenchaw to 2011, the year the future commander began working at Cloverdale, which had just become Arkansas’ first aerospace-themed school.

“When Cloverdale first became an aerospace school, Dr. Crenchaw would come out and read aviation stories to the students and talk with them about life and growing up,” St. Pierre said.   

Gaining its charter was a clear step forward for the squadron. “We had one student show up at the first parent-student meeting, and she is now second in charge,” he said, referring to Cadet Staff Sgt. Morgan Crawford.

“A couple of months later, we offered CAP as part of the summer program and got six more cadets in, which served as the core for the expansion at the start of the ‘22-‘23 school year,” St. Pierre said,

Cadet Staff Sgt. Morgan Crawford

“Throughout the school year, more and more students are joining during our twice-a-year recruiting cohort,” St. Pierre said. When the charter was issued, the squadron consisted of 17 cadets and three adult members. 

A former cadet himself, St. Pierre fondly recalls those days encampments, National Blue Beret in 1985, other National Cadet Special Activities, and an International Air Cadet Exchange visit to Israel in 1987. 

He wants “my cadets to have similar experiences that I had,” he said.

“The students have really enjoyed the program,” the squaddron commander said, and “teachers credit the program with making a difference in the students’ lives.”

That's a particularly valuable consideration at Cloverdale.

Waiting and watching

Southwest Little Rock is a historically underserved and under-resourced community that continues to experience a range of social issues that create significant limitations to the progress of the youth who reside in the area. Before he retired from the Little Rock Police Department about 15 year ago, St. Pierre became familiar with some of the challenges as well as the access to opportunities CAP could provide.

The squadron offers a way to cope with the situation, he said “for our cadets, this is more than just a program. It’s family.”

Several of his cadets have unstable home lives, and others are in foster care or live in homeless shelters, St. Pierre said. He cited one whose brother was fatally shot in the family’s front yard by a still-unidentified gunman, and another whose cousin died from a bullet in the back earlier this month.

In the past, some of the cadets demonstrated behavior problems, but their involvement in CAP has resulted in “a huge reduction in negative behaviors,” St. Pierre said.

“They are working harder to improve their academic skills while finding a ‘family’ with their fellow cadets – both in the squadron and across the state,” he said. 

Learning their way

As an example, St. Pierre said, "rather than miss school the next day, (the cadet whose cousin was slain)elected to come to school …  to receive the support of her CAP family.”

Along with the nurturing environment, “cadets love all of the activities that have been available, including ground search and rescue school, air shows, encampment, etc.,” he said.

In addition, their families “are so supportive … even with all the problems, all the issues, all the obstacles they face,” St. Pierre said.

The cadets’ focus on service and involvement extends beyond school – where principals and teachers look to Crawford, the cadet leader, for leadership – and CAP, he said.

They’re “community-oriented … they want to help out,” St. Pierre said.

They’ve stuck to it. They’re working through the issues as well.

“They are proud to tell their story. They’re proud of what they do,” he said.

He listed the goals set by the cadet staff:

  • Gain Ground team qualification for cadets interested in search and rescue
  • Achieve Community Emergency Response Team qualification, enabling cadets to respond to disasters 
  • Form a well-trained color guard to support school functions and participate in the National Cadet Competition.

Meanwhile, the squadron's first year at Cloverdale is also the last. The 67-year-old school building will be shuttered at the end of the school year and replaced by a new academy-style school for kindergarten through eighth grade in another Southwest Little Rock location.